Orrawin is a 17-year-old high school student who goes by the name Winnie. Her twin older sisters, Bunnisa (Bunny) and Aranee (Ari) are college students at Washington University in St. Louis. Their parents made a mistake by not allowing Bunny and Ari to date in high school. Now that the twins are in college, their parents expect them to become engaged before they graduate. Bunny and Ari claim they need to wait because they have had no dating experience and want to enjoy their late teens and early twenties before settling down. The parents agree, but decide that Winnie needs to start dating pronto so she can get engaged in college and provide grandchildren to her parents before they die.
Pintip Dunn’s new novel, Dating Makes Perfect, follows the young adult romantic comedy formula normal to this genre. It even pays tribute to the most beloved American rom-com movies. All very mainstream, except all but a couple of the characters are Thai-American. Dunn has already made a name for herself in young adult literature, but this is her first book with a mostly Thai cast of characters.
The caveat is that this is meant to be pro forma: Winnie isn’t to get too close to her date. The person her parents choose for her is her arch enemy, Mat Songsomboon. She and Mat had been best friends until a falling out four years earlier. Caught in the mix of their pretend dates is Taran, a new boy who has just moved in. His parents are grateful their son is finally exposed to a Thai community.
Dunn celebrates Thai culture in her story, whether through the inclusion of the celebration of Songkran at the local wat:
The Songkran festival marks the beginning of the Thai New Year on April thirteenth, and the holiday is celebrated with water. Pouring water, splashing water, spraying water—all symbols of washing away the previous year’s negativity. It’s a blast. When we were younger, Mama would set up an inflatable swimming pool in the backyard and arm all the kids with water guns.
or regular family meals:
For starters, Mama always prepares an enormous spread of khao tom (boiled rice soup) and side dishes, and today is no exception. The table is crowded with a Thai omelet, chicken stir-fried with ginger, palo (five-spice stew), deep-fried catfish, pickled mustard greens, kunchieng (Chinese sausage), and sautéed bean sprouts.
Some meals take place over video chat with the twins away at college. Although Bunny and Ari can’t replicate their mother’s spread, they try their best with steamed rice and pickled vegetables.
The immigrant and first generation divide in the story is not new to Asian-American YA novels. Winnie and her parents don’t agree about what she’ll study at Northwestern when she starts there in the fall. She wants to study art; they want her to become an economics professor.
I’ll be expected to be serious in college. Focused on my economics courses. Not distracted by “frivolous” pursuits.
Bunny and Ari are already taking pre-med and pre-law classes, so Winnie is to become an academic.
Pintip Dunn also tackles current hot topics like consent and gender equality. These parts of the story are not as fleshed out as the dating issues, but the title telegraphs that.
Susan Blumberg-Kason is the author of Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong.